Pennsylvania Court to Hear Gay Marriage Challenge Sept. 4

The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, one of two statewide intermediate appellate courts, agreed to hear a challenge to the state’s ban on gay marriage on Sept. 4. Authorities are seeking to bar county officials from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Health, which has jurisdiction to review marriage licenses in the state, in July sued D. Bruce Hanes, clerk of Orphans’ Court of Montgomery County in Norristown, to stop him from issuing licenses. Hanes, a Democrat who argues that Pennsylvania’s ban is unconstitutional, has issued 137 licenses since July 24.

The fight for same-sex marriage rights is gaining momentum after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to married gay couples. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex marriage.

The Pennsylvania dispute, which has gained national attention, follows a decision by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane not to defend a lawsuit filed in federal court by the American Civil Liberties Union and 23 plaintiffs over the same-sex marriage ban.

Under Pennsylvania law, marriage is defined as a civil contract between a man and a woman, the health department said in its complaint. Lawyers for Montgomery County argued in court papers that the department lacked standing to bring the complaint and that the issue should be addressed by the state’s highest court.

Sixty-six of the 137 licenses issued have resulted in marriages, county spokesman Frank Custer said today by phone.

“The vast majority of them realize that there is some risk that at a later date their marriage could be invalidated,” Custer said.

The case is Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Health v. Hanes, 379 MD 2013, Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania (Harrisburg).

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